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INFOTECH: IT in Manufacturing Vs Corporate Technology


Recent Gauteng Business News

The face of IT in manufacturing is changing quite rapidly. Gone are the days of manufacturing IT being viewed as a process that runs in the background. IT managers are urged to get involved in IT manufacturing in order to enhance standard functionalities such as governance, reporting, monitoring and system back-ups in order to optimise availability 24 hours a day, seven days a week, says Mike Le Plastrier, a Divisional Director at EOH.

It is often standard procedure to schedule downtime for corporate IT for various procedures and maintenance. Scheduling of downtime for IT in manufacturing is almost unheard of. If you go home over the weekend and your e-mail is not available for ten minutes you will be annoyed, but it is unlikely to result in a crisis. If, however, there is a ten minute IT breakdown at the manufacturing plant, the entire production line will come to a halt. This often has far reaching cost implications as it may take significant time before normal production can resume,” explains Le Plastrier.

IT Manfacturing Still in Learning Phase

Le Plastrier feels that IT in manufacturing can learn a great deal from corporate IT. “Normally the corporate world has a much higher governance requirement and fine-tuned reporting requirements are standard functionalities in the corporate world. In the corporate environment, back-up procedures for example are traditionally much more advanced, which alone will greatly benefit the manufacturing industry. It has however historically been an ‘us and them’ scenario, which we need to change,” he says.

For some time now, more progressive companies have taken the first step and are closely aligning their manufacturing systems and procedures with corporate IT. “Gartner has even gone as far as issuing a challenge to CIO’s to get involved with IT manufacturing in order to familiarise themselves with the technology that has been excluded from the growth and development that corporate IT has been privy to. However they warn CIO’s that they take on this challenge at some considerable risk.”

These may be some of the reasons that staff members on the shop floor distance their systems from commercial IT. They think about IT differently according to Le Plastrier and want to keep their networks separate from corporate. Besides the fact that there is often both an organisational divide and a cultural divide between corporate IT and IT in manufacturing, there are usually good reasons why the networks need to be kept apart.

The Positives of IT in Manufacturing

Le Plastrier notes that the bandwidth requirement required by manufacturing IT is typically fairly low. The reliability requirements are however extremely high with many systems requiring deterministic delivery (delivery of messages in specific order with no lapses). While the network structure is often not optimally designed, the relatively low bandwidth requirement ensures there are few delivery and speed restrictions.

“There is however huge bandwidth requirement in a corporate environment. During peak times, the available bandwidth can deplete rapidly, which poses a huge risk from a manufacturing perspective. It is however the recommended norm to keep manufacturing separate from corporate, at least in a virtual sense, to ensure that manufacturing IT does not suffer bandwidth constraints due to corporate activities,” explains Le Plastrier.

In many, if not most manufacturing IT environments, an IT breakdown will lead to a frantic run around in an attempt to pinpoint the problem. “The design of the network is however often less than optimal, which makes it difficult. In a fully managed corporate network the IT manager typically monitors the network 24/7 and will know exactly what traffic is passing through every piece of wire, which simplifies the identification of a problem. It would make life a lot easier if that same knowledge was applied to IT traffic within the manufacturing space.”

Cost is always a factor and this is no different when it comes to manufacturing IT. Often the requirement to upgrade the manufacturing IT infrastructure brings with it considerable cost due to the fragmented and piece meal nature of the initial network installation. However an upgrade of the IT infrastructure to a system which can be fully managed will typically increase system up time and dramatically reduce mean time to repair. In addition, this would also allow for remote monitoring and management of these networks. This can bring huge up time benefits as these manufacturing IT networks are often located on remote sites with very limited access to trained network specialists.

Reporting structures are the final differentiator. “Optimisation remains a challenge when different people and structures are involved. Finding a middle ground between round-the-clock availability and the standards and governance aspects will benefit both sides of the spectrum,” concludes Le Plastrier. This is because IT manufacturing usually reports to production and Corporate IT reports to the CIO or CFO.


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